Thursday, 29 December 2016

Carrot and Ginger Loaf Cake

I loved this cake! It was lighter in texture than the gingerbread recipe I usually use, but the carrot added moistness and texture, and the cake was delicious. I can only find one criticism to make, and that was that it needed a little more ground ginger for my tastes. I found the recipe, on the Good Food site, when I was looking for something to make from storecupboard ingredients, so while I could rustle up some carrots, I didn't have any oranges or lemons in the house. I almost left out the two citrus elements altogether, but in the end used the zest of a clementine and a few drops of lemon extract. I'm glad I did add them, as the freshness of the citrus really lifted the flavour.

Another bonus point was that the cake was really quick and easy to make, using only a saucepan, a spoon and two bowls to weigh the flour and carrots. I think it was in the oven within 10 minutes of starting to assemble the ingredients.

As usual, I didn't add the frosting - it probably would have added a tasty extra citrus note to the cake, but it was fine without it, in my opinion.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Mincemeat Frangipane Tart

gluten- and dairy-free

The highlight of this recipe, for me, was making a really good gluten- and dairy-free pastry. I'd read that it wasn't easy, so it felt quite an achievement  to come up with a recipe which worked well first time (and was repeatable - I made this dessert twice!). After looking at many recipes and reading about gluten-free pastry, I based this recipe on my usual wheatflour sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, but added both a little xanthan gum for strength and baking powder for lightness. I'd read that gluten-free pastry needs more liquid than wheatflour pastry, so I made the dough wetter than usual.

There are reservations about this apparent success though - the pastry dough was very sticky and hard to handle, and I'm not sure I would have had as much success in other situations, for instance if the pastry needed baking blind, or if I was trying to make a pastry top crust too. This may have only worked because the filling was put straight onto raw chilled pastry, and the mincemeat and frangipane layers completely filled the pastry case, holding the sides in place until the pastry had set during baking and leaving no chance of any collapse. Obviously I need to try out the pastry in other situations before declaring it a total success.

Sweet shortcrust pastry:
200g Dove's gluten-free plain flour
1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
100g hard dairy-free baking fat (eg Stork)
50g icing sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons water

250g mincemeat (check it's gluten- and dairy-free, if this is important)

100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
100g dairy-free baking spread
1 tablespoon ground rice
2 large eggs
a few drops almond extract
flaked almonds for topping

Sift the flour and icing sugar into a bowl and add the xanthan gum and baking powder.
Cut the baking fat into small cubes and add to the bowl. I find that Stork is not as hard as cold butter, so can usually be used straight from the fridge.
Rub or cut the fat into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then mix in the egg and water to make a smooth sticky dough. Only knead enough to incorporate everything into an even dough. Put the ball of dough onto a large piece of clingfilm, wrap loosely and flatten the dough into a 3cm thick disc. Chill for 20 minutes.
Unwrap the dough, but leave it in the centre of the clingfilm, then cover with another large piece of film. Roll out the dough evenly, between the pieces of film, until it is about 30cm (12") in diameter and will fit into a shallow fluted flan tin, about 23cm (9") in diameter.
Remove the top piece of clingfilm carefully - the dough will still be sticky - and invert the circle of dough into the flan tin, so that the bottom piece of film is now on top. While this piece of clingfilm is still in place, ease the dough into place in the corners and flutes of the tin. Chill the pastry case again.
Remove the pastry case from the fridge, gently ease off the clingfilm and trim the dough around the top of the tin to give a neat edge. Any small holes can now be patched with small pieces of the dough trimmings, if necessary - just smooth a small piece into place with your finger.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C, and put a baking tray onto a middle shelf to heat.
Spread the mincemeat into the base of the pastry case.
Put all the ingredients for the frangipane, except the flaked almonds, into a bowl and beat until the mixture is smooth. This is easily done with a spoon, but you can use a hand-held mixer too, if you prefer.
Pour the frangipane over the mincemeat to fill the pastry case, and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Put onto the baking tray and cook for 40-45 minutes until frangipane is firm and golden brown.
Cool in the tin.

I was really pleased with this. I've made frangipane mincemeat tarts before, but never a gluten-and dairy-free version. I doubt anyone would be able to tell the difference as the strong flavours of mincemeat (I used a gluten-free variety with added cranberries) and almonds covers any deficiencies through not using butter in the pastry. The pastry was light and crisp too, and kept well over the three days it took to eat the tart.

I think this will be my last post before Christmas, so I'm fortunate it's a festive one. I'm not planning to cook anything new over the Christmas period, just old favourites. It's also hard to get photographs in the chaos of cooking and the bad light at this time of year, so I'll be back soon with something new.

Season's Greetings to you all!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Chestnut Flour Brownies - 2

gluten- and dairy-free.

After my earlier, not entirely successful, experimentation with chestnut flour (see previous post), I looked back over all my brownie recipes to see which one might be best adapted to use chestnut flour in place of flour containing gluten. I soon found this Diana Henry recipe for brownies made with rye flour, which is lower in gluten than wheat flour. This made me think the recipe might work as well with a gluten-free flour, so I tried a straight swap of flours, using chestnut flour instead of rye, and also added 3 chopped marrons glacé instead of the nuts suggested (you could add more, but they are very expensive!). I also used a hard dairy-free baking fat (eg Stork) instead of butter, as I was still trying to make the brownies both gluten- and dairy-free

The batter was a lot stiffer than I remembered it being in the original recipe, and really difficult to spread, so I was worried that the brownies might be too solid. However, the baked brownies were fine - quite delicious, in fact. They were dense, chewy and fudgy - everything a good brownie should be. They also tasted as if they had a lot more chocolate in them than they actually did, but without being too rich, as in my last recipe. The little pieces of candied chestnuts added an extra dimension to both the flavour and the texture.

I suspected that the stiff batter was down to the chestnut flour absorbing more moisture than rye flour, although none of the baking recipes using chestnut flour that I've looked at suggest that any adjustment is necessary. So I tried the recipe for a second time, adding 2 tablespoons of water to the batter, which made it easier to spread in the tin, but also made the brownies a little less fudgy and added a few minutes to the baking time.

My only slight disappointment with both batches of chestnut brownies was that I didn't really pick up any flavour components that I could attribute to the chestnut flour. Yes, the brownies were delicious, but would they have been any less delicious if made with spelt or rye flour? As chestnut flour is so expensive, I don't think it's something that I'll bother to keep in stock, unless I find a recipe which showcases it's flavour.

I'm sending these brownies to Choclette's 'We Should Cocoa' link-up for December, over at Tin and Thyme. Chocolate is always associated with Christmas, but adding chestnuts to these brownies makes them even more seasonal.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Chestnut Flour Brownies - 1

gluten- and dairy-free

Chestnut flour is something that I've been meaning to try for a long time, but I've only ever seen it for sale online, where minimum order charges or postage charges haven't made it economical. So when we were on holiday in Italy in September, and found ourselves passing a wholefood supermarket I had to see if they had any. I think I probably paid as much per kg as I would have in this country, but I got organic flour, and didn't have to buy anything extra to make up an order.

Once I'd got the flour, I decided to keep it for Christmas baking, but couldn't resist trying these brownies from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, which only needed 40g of flour, when I wanted to try something different in the way of gluten- and dairy- free baking. I had to adapt the recipe to make it dairy-free, and to allow for the fact that I only had 70% plain chocolate available, but Celia's recipe was certainly the inspiration. In this post Celia warns of the pitfalls of trying to use chocolate with too high a percentage of cocoa solids in this recipe, so although I didn't have any problems, you might want to stick to the original recipe.

100g hard dairy-free baking fat - I used Stork
200g 70% plain chocolate
175g light muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
40g chestnut flour
130g 70% plain chocolate, chopped coarsely

NB - check that the chocolate is dairy-free if this factor is important.

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a 20cm (8") square brownie tin.
Melt the chocolate and baking fat together in a bowl, over a pan of simmering water, then remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and sugar.
Cool, if necessary, until the mixture is only lukewarm, then beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Sift in the flour and stir vigourously until  the flour is incorporated and the mixture 'snaps' (as Celia describes it). This is the point at which the texture of the batter stiffens and comes cleanly away from the sides of the mixing bowl.
Fold in the chopped chocolate, transfer the batter to the baking tin, spread evenly and bake for 25 minutes until just form.
Cool completely in the tin before cutting into pieces. I recommend small pieces, as these brownies are very, very rich. The pieces in the photographs were only about 2.5cm square!

I'm usually reluctant to use non-dairy fats in place of butter, but in this recipe the chocolate hit was so powerful that any adverse flavour from the Stork baking fat was completely masked. I very rarely say things like this, but I think this recipe made something that was too rich to be thought of as a brownie. Even after cutting into tiny squares, it was difficult to eat more than one - it was like eating semi-solid chocolate, not any sort of cake. We had to eat the brownies as an after-dinner chocolate treat rather than a dessert. They were absolutely delicious, but not what I was looking for in terms of a gluten- and dairy-free dessert.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Orange and Cranberry Cake

with apricots and macadamia nuts

This loaf cake is based on the proportions of a madeira cake, rather than a sponge - equal quantities of butter, sugar and eggs, but a larger amount of flour. This makes the cake softer and richer than the more basic fruit loaf recipe I sometimes use, and the extra flour helps prevent any added fruits and nuts from sinking. I usually make these little loaves as an all-in-one mixture, to save time. For this cake, I was using up oddments from the storecupboard, including the remnanats of a pack of mixed macadamia nuts and dried cranberries, plus some extra cranberries from another pack, so I'm not sure of the exact weight of each individual ingredient, although there were more cranberries than anything else - as long as the total weight is around 150g the cake will be OK

100g softened butter
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
150g SR flour
zest of an orange, finely grated
milk to mix, if needed
150g of a mixture of dried cranberries, dried apricots and macadamia nuts

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a small (450g/1lb) loaf tin.
Put the butter, sugar, eggs, flour and orange zest into a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the batter is well blended and smooth. Add a little milk if necessary to give a dropping consistency.
Fold in the dried fruit and nuts with a spoon, then transfer the mixture to the prepared tin.
Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a test probe comes out clean.

As I said a few posts back, cranberries and apricots is one of my favourite combinations of dried fruits. Here, the orange zest adds a freshness to the cake and the macadamia nuts give a contrasting texture.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Chocolate Slice with Macaroon Topping

I found this recipe for a Chocolate Slice with Macaroon Topping while looking for a way of using up three egg whites. I knew I wanted a chocolate element in the recipe, as part of the traybake was being given to my son, who is a chocoholic like me, and I think the idea of almond macaroons was floating in my subconsciousness as I'd recently made a frangipane topped tart. If I hadn't found this recipe, I would eventually have combined parts of other recipes I've used in the past to make something very similar - perhaps with a chocolate shortbread base.

I made a few adaptations to the recipe, both to cater for what was in the store cupboard and to avoid using more than one extra egg, which would then create more leftovers. This meant that I cracked one more egg to get 4 egg whites, then used the yolk and 2 tablespoons of milk in the chocolate layer, instead of a whole egg. I also used less jam between the chocolate base and the macaroon topping, and missed out the white chocolate chips altogether. Obviously I haven't tasted the original recipe, but I don't think this slice suffered from losing the sometimes sickly sweetness that white chocolate brings to already sweet enough recipes.

for the base:
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g plain flour
pinch salt
3 tablespoons cocoa
60g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g apricot or raspberry jam, warmed slightly
( I had to use a mixture of apricot jam and marmalade to get this amount of jam, and sieved the mixture after warming to remove pieces of apricot and orange peel)

for macaroon topping
4 egg whites
150g ground almonds
150g caster sugar
a few drops of almond extract
flaked almonds for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a 20cm(8") shallow square baking tin with parchment, making sure the paper covers the sides of the tin too.
Place all the ingredients for the base, except the jam, into a bowl, sifting in the flour, cocoa and icing sugar to avoid clumps. Beat with an electric mixer until smoothly combined, then spread the batter evenly into the baking tin. Bake for 15 minutes until firm.
Cool for 5 minutes, then spread with the jam.
Increase the oven temperature to 180C.
Make the topping by whisking the egg whites to the soft peak stage, then fold in the ground almonds, sugar and almond extract.
Pour this mixture over the base and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until top is golden and firm.
Cool in the tin before cutting into bars.

This was really delicious; definitely something to make again! The chocolate base was somewhere between a cake and a biscuit in texture. It wasn't very sweet either, which provided a good contrast to the sweet, chewy macaroon topping, and the jam between the layers.

Unfortunately, the slice was cut, wrapped and delivered to my children before I had time to look at the photographs, so I've only got good photographs of one of the two pieces I kept, so that we could taste it too.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Date and Walnut Squares

The recipe for the base and topping layers of these squares is perfect - the top is crisp, the bottom layer holds together well but is still very light, and it's really quick to make as the butter and sugar are melted together before being poured onto the flour mixture.

I've used the recipe before, for these Date and Ginger Squares, but wasn't entirely happy with the filling that time. This time, I used just dates, leaving out the currants, and added finely chopped walnuts instead of ginger. This combination was really tasty, but this is one of those recipes where I can imagine a wide variety of fillings working as well - at this time of year, mincemeat springs to mind, but dried apricots cooked in orange juice, or even a thick apple purée would be worth trying too!

250g pack of chopped dates
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
75g finely chopped walnuts
170g SR flour
170g semolina (I used 50:50 mix of semolina and ground rice, as I didn't have enough semolina)
170g butter
85g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 190C, and line a 20cm(8") square baking tin with parchment.
Put the dates into a small saucepan with the honey, water and cinnamon. Bring to the boil, cover the pan, then lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is absorbed - 10 minutes at the most, so keep an eye on it! Turn off the heat.

In another small pan, melt the butter and sugar together and stir until the sugar has mostly dissolved. Tip this onto the flour and semolina mix and stir in with a spoon. It will make a crumbly mixture which looks as if it might hold together if you kneaded it, but there's no need to do this!
Put 2/3 of the dough mix into the baking tin, spread evenly and press down firmly.
Spread the date filling on top of the dough base, leaving a very small margin around the edge of the tin.
Crumble the remaining dough over the top, as evenly as possible, and press down lightly with your hand. Don't worry if there are gaps where the filling shows through.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is golden brown. Mark into squares or fingers as soon as the bake is removed from the oven, but leave in the tin until completely cold - they are very fragile while warm.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Gingerbread with Macadamia Nuts and Cranberries

This is a traditional gingerbread recipe - one of those cakes where the top gets sticky over time! I added some chopped macadamia nuts and dried cranberries to use up supplies approaching the 'best-before' date. I'm happy to use dried fruit past it's best, but nuts can go stale quite quickly. I've been using this recipe for over 40 years know, but haven't found anything better. The amount of black treacle can be reduced to make a lighter cake, without the characteristic bitterness, as long as it is replaced by the same weight of golden syrup. The total weight of the two syrups must be 230g

110g butter
60g light muscovado sugar
170g black treacle
60g golden syrup
150mls milk
2 eggs
220g plain flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
50g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
50g dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 150C and line a deep 20cm(8") square cake tin with baking parchment.
In a large saucepan, heat the butter, sugar, and syrups until the fat has melted. Remove from the heat, add the milk and cool until lukewarm.
Beat the eggs and blend into the melted mixture.
Sift the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and add the liquid. Stir briskly to combine, but do not beat. Lastly stir in the fruit and nuts.
Transfer the batter to the baking tin and bake for about 60 minutes, until a test probe comes out clean.
Cool in the tin and preferably leave for a day before cutting.

I don't think the addition of fruit and nuts contributed much to the flavour, as the spiciness of  the gingerbread and the bitterness of treacle is so strong, but the nuts added a nice crunch to the texture.